Thursday, November 8, 2007

When it's obligatory to root against your team

By Rick Morris

As previously bemoaned in this space, the NFL saw fit to victimize the Cleveland market (where I live) by denying us access to Super Bowl 41 1/2 last week. As such, other and luminaries and I were forced to watch the game and the very excellent contest with our Cleveland Browns at Harpo's, an outstanding sports restaurant with the biggest combination of many TVs and large-screen TVs this side of a Las Vegas sports book.

As the Browns were wrapping up an improbable victory, one seemingly destined to be remembered as the turning point away from the misery of their first seven years back in the league, I got into an impromptu debate with my friend Dave Adams. Dave is a gentleman who used to be a part of the old "Reality Check" show on STN with myself and Ron Glasenapp and his brother Jon, who was also present, is a contributor to FDH. In the fun days when we used to do the show together, the struggles of the Browns under Butch Davis were a frequent source of debate. Dave and I had, and have to this day, different ideas on how to show ultimate loyalty to a team.

Dave believes that a fan should always root for his team, no matter what. Even if your brain tells you that the team is on a dead-end path and destined to crash and burn, you should hope against hope that the the team could win games regardless of that.

I don't subscribe to this school of thought at all. In 2003, when it became clear that "Botch" Davis was putting the agenda of pushing Kelly Holcomb ahead of the success of the team, I became one of the first commentators in the Cleveland market to call for his head. For me, it was a frightening case of deja vu, as Bill Belichick was up to similar tricks a decade earlier when he mandated bootlegs for Bernie Kosar so that he could dump him notwithstanding a 2-0 start to the season.

In both instances, I began to root for the team to lose every game so as to end the misery quickly and be able to start over as soon as possible. By 2004, I was calling for Phil Savage's installation as Browns general manager on "Reality Check," a year before the Cleveland organization decided to do just that. While Davis and his stooge Pete Garcia seemed to staff the team with a shoebox that held the names of players Davis had once recruited at the University of Miami, Savage was one of the league's premier personnel experts and a tireless researcher of talent. I opined that the team needed somebody like Savage who operated from a scientific standpoint free from personal agendas and biases that interfered with team success.

To Dave, rooting for the team to lose in the short term for the necessary "enema effect" was disloyal. The concept of being a "fan in exile" for any period of time was, and still is, completely unacceptable to him.

As the Browns were completing the signature victory of their 2007 turnaround, I was motivated at the end to take a victory lap with Dave (proving once and for all that I am the same guy off-air and away from the FDH media family that I am when you see, hear and read me!). After the Pittsburgh debacle in the season opener, Dave cornered me at one of his poker games and asked me if I still thought the team was better off than they were under Davis. I answered firmly that they were, the same sentiment my partner Jason Jones and I were propagating on STN while all around us were panicking. For those who were actually bothering to look, the 2007 roster was light years better than what had been inherited by Savage after the 2004 season. So after the win over Seattle, at a time when the progress of this team could finally no longer be denied, I said to Dave, "See, if the team had listened to me and fired Davis a year or two earlier, look at how much further along we'd be!" Dave, naturally, begged to differ!

It's an interesting debate and unsurprisingly, it's one where I think I'm in the right. Where would Ohio State be if John Cooper hadn't finally hit rock bottom and kept limping along as he had been doing? There would have been no Jim Tressel era, no national championship, no reversal of the domination at the hands of Michigan -- in short, no return to glory. Rooting against one's team should never be done lightly, but I maintain that sometimes it is necessary for the greater good and the ultimate restoration of success down the road.

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